We are please to present an interview with Jason Frasca, a New York surveillance investigator from Davis Investigations to give some insight into the “day in the life” of a surveillance investigator.
￼Tell me a little about Davis Investigations. How did it get started and where are you now?
Davis Investigations was started by my mother, Dorothy Frasca in 1989. She had been previously working for another investigation firm in New York City on the surveillance team and just loved it and had a real passion for it so she decided to venture out and start her own company.
She decided early on video surveillance would be the only aspect of investigations she would provide. Our clients were impressed from the start, her passion shining through in her results. Word got around quickly and a business was born. We still provide video surveillance to our 3 original clients today.
The company has evolved into a family business. Adam Frasca joined the company in 2002. He is our lead investigator for video surveillance. I would say he has taken his mothers passion for surveillance and refined it to a science and art form maximizing results for our clients.
I joined the company in 2004 learning all aspects of the business. I got a crash course in surveillance, standing on cold wet street corners watching doors, standing in hallways for hours waiting for the subjects to leave their doctors appointments. My role now is spilt between operations and surveillance.
￼What types of surveillance services do you focus on?
Our primary focus is insurance fraud – major liability claims, medical malpractice and personal injury cases where the plaintiffs are suspected of exaggerating their claims to cash in on their lawsuit. We also do surveillance for general liability, matrimonial and disability.
In the end, surveillance is surveillance regardless of what type it is as long as you understand the objectives. Whether it be a subject building a rock wall or a spouse cheating – the video is the same. It’s about strategy and understanding human behavior.
With over 21 years of exclusive dedication to video surveillance, we have become experts in understanding human behavior, putting ourselves in the best possible position to achieve maximum results on behalf of our clients.
￼Describe what a day in the life of a surveillance investigator is typically like?
We start very early, typically no later than a 4 am wake-up as you have to be on location by 6 am before your subject starts their day.
Once on location you take your opening shot, with a date and time stamp to authenticate the video. The opening shot is important, as it is the “beginning” of the story. Our surveillance videos tell a story, with a beginning, middle and an end.
After you take your opening shot you must establish your surveillance position accounting for the various circumstances each surveillance offers from a rural setting dealing with various routes to the main roads and to urban settings with tall buildings with hundreds of people exiting multiple exits.
Once you have all the logistics worked out, you sit and wait. This is the hardest part of the job. To maintain your focus for hours waiting for the moment when your subject exit then you spring into action! The rush, the moment you got up in the morning for! It may happen at 6:10 am or 3:55 pm, 5 minutes before you cut off the surveillance.
The “middle” – now surveillance begins and you follow your subject discreetly to where ever they take you. Could be just to walk the dog or to the deli down the street for the newspaper, perhaps to Foxwoods. You never know where you will end up on surveillance, you must be prepared for everything and anything.
We follow on foot, buses, taxi cabs, subways, cars, car services, sometimes all in the same hour. Hoping in out of our own vehicles, parking them, diving back in, only to park them again. We do whatever it takes to get video of our subjects, making sure the video is steady and professional throughout.
Ultimately the subject gets to a destination. Either back home after a series of errands and appointments or a destination like a friends house or a Foxwoods. This is the “end” of our story.
Of course there are days where you just sit there all day and nothing happens and at 4 pm you call the surveillance off and arrive home at 6pm. You get out of your vehicle for the first time in 13+ hours and your a bit stiff.
￼What is the most difficult part of a surveillance investigators job?
The hardest part of a surveillance investigators job is that unlike the movies we get just one take to shoot our videos just right. There are no do overs or opportunities to go back and try again.
If a subject jumps over a puddle and you miss it on video the opportunity is lost forever. If a plaintiff picks up a case of water on each shoulder in a Costco and carries it out and you are out of focus, the opportunity is gone. You can’t ask them to go back and carry it again. If your claimant carries a whirlpool across a parking lot and your battery dies you missed the home run shot. You will never get that chance again to film that million dollar video.
This is not Hollywood. A private investigator on video surveillance has to be perfect to get the home run.
￼What are the keys to conducting a successful surveillance?
Preparation, Planning, Focus & Tenacity.
Preparation – It starts in the office, working up the case to ensure you have all the details on your subject before going into the field. Confirming you are going to the right location and that your subject, to the best of your ability lives at that location. Ensure that you have all your batteries charged and equipment prepared for the field before you arrive on-site and not fumbling with everything when you should be taking your opening shot and watching the door.
Planning – Have a solid plan to approach individual surveillance to maximize the results. No two surveillance’s are the same. Each requires a plan all their own based on the characteristics of each individual. Work or school schedule, alleged injuries, where they live, age, relationships, modes of transportation available, etc. Once on-site, the plan must be refined according to the environment. How close are they to any subways or bus stops. Additional unknown vehicles in the driveway, can you see the house from the street? Can you park on the street anywhere near the home safely or undetected, number of exits from the building, etc.
Focus – Maintaining your focus throughout the course of a surveillance is paramount. It only takes a second for a door to open and close. Much can be learned or lost in that moment.
Tenacity – You must be tenacious day in and day out to constantly acquire video on your clients behalf. The environment, weather and location of the surveillance is constantly changing from moment to moment, place to place. There are a multitude of outside factors trying to prevent you from acquiring great video – whether it be traffic, a school bus, a traffic cop, a nosy neighbor, a busy parking lot, a crowded subway or an empty subway. You must be tenacious through it all and press on undetected to get great video… and we do.
￼What are your biggest challenges in conducting a surveillance investigation?
The biggest challenge we face on a surveillance is identifying a plaintiff or claimant. We are usually given a physical description of the plaintiff or claimant when we receive the case and that is all we have to go on.
When the subject lives in a one family home this is usually sufficient. However, when there are multiple families living in one home or in an apartment building the chore of identifying the subject becomes a challenging task to say the least. Yet, we do overcome the obstacle through a variety of checks and balances.
￼What would you say is the key differentiation between you and other surveillance investigators?
I believe the number one thing that separates Davis Investigations, Inc. from other investigators is that we are exclusivity dedicated to video surveillance. We have been for over 21 years and will always be. We are experts at video surveillance. We live, eat and breath video surveillance. We constantly talk about the angles, strategies, setups, environments. Any advantage we can to acquire video on a subject based on a specific surveillance’s unique challenges.
There is an art & science to video surveillance, which we have spent countless hours perfecting. You don’t just buy a video camera and start following someone and call it surveillance. The outcome will will not yield the same results as a trained dedicated professional.
Another key point that set Davis Investigations apart is that we shoot all of our surveillance videos in High Definition (HD) with a date and time stamp. We have been doing this for a while now and the quality of our videos is superior in this format. I do believe we pioneered surveillance video in (HD) and have received nothing but high praise from our clients since rolling it out.
￼Since the company was founded, what has changed about the surveillance business?
The 2011 surveillance landscape is much more competitive today than it was in 1989 due to the inexpensive nature of the cameras making it easy for anyone with a private investigators license to offer the service.
However, this does not mean they are experts or offering a quality product. In fact, I believe it spreads themselves thin from their core focus in which they originally started their business and ultimately diluting all of their offerings. Jack of all trades, master of none.
￼What type of technology do you use to help streamline your business?
In recent months we have upgraded our internal systems to allow for a paperless office. While it is the trendy environmentally friendly thing to do, it also allows us to update surveillance cases from any where pushing information through to our investigators immediately, regardless of where they are.
No more printing assignments and being bound to the “static” paper document. We are now dynamic, on the fly. If new pictures of a subject are acquired they can be routed to the field investigator immediately, in real time along with new relevant search results or details that may have come in after the fact. It has made a huge difference in our ability to react quickly to changing circumstances.
￼For people who are looking for a surveillance investigator, what should they be looking for?
If you are looking to hire a private investigator to conduct Video Surveillance you should look for five things:
1) Insure that they are licensed in the state in which you intend to hire them.
2) Make sure that all of their videos are authenticated with a date and time stamp on every scene. If there is no date and time stamp the video will not be admitted as evidence into court, it will be worthless.
3) Ask the private investigator you are hiring what type of plan they would implement for you’re specific surveillance scenario. Every surveillance is different and your potential investigator should have no problem sharing their ideas with you upfront.
4) Be leery of the cheapest price. Like in all walks of life – you get what you pay for. Davis Investigations uses two surveillance investigators on every case. This is not a corner that should ever be cut nor comprised for any reason. You pay a bit more but the return pays for itself 100 fold in the results as the second most import thing after trying to obtain the video is avoiding getting made.
Once the surveillance is compromised and a subject is aware they have been tailed you can never follow that person again with out them looking over their shoulder limiting all future success. Two investigators covering every possible exit, mode of transportation and the ability to follow long, short or quick and frequent stops is the best strategy for conducting surveillance undetected, allowing for multiple attempts and increasing your chance for success.
5) Finally, the most important credential to look for when hiring a private investigator to conduct surveillance is their ability to testify on the stand. Being an expert witness is the most overlooked aspect of hiring an investigator for video surveillance, yet it is the second half of the service you are hired for. Davis Investigations, Inc. has testified 100’s of times authenticating their video’s in court and are considered to be highly credible expert witnesses.